Putin Shapes Chechen-Style Regime for Syria after Assad’s Exit
Last week, DEBKA Weekly 695 (of Jan. 29) broke the story of the pact struck quietly between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin for a joint effort to end the Syrian civil war. We offered exclusive details of their political and military agreements.
The current issue now unveils the first chapter of its implementation.
The centerpiece, as revealed by our intelligence sources, is Putin’s plan for deposing Syrian President Bashar Assad, possibly by April or May, and replacing him with a military clique, or a single Syrian general, who will be subservient to the Kremlin.
Before him is a list of five or six generals, whom the Russian military intelligence GRU has picked as the military junta for ruling Syria as a virtual Russian dependency.
Putin leans more toward a single general as ruler. He is casting about for a military figure which most closely resembles Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.
For 17 years, the autocratic Kadyrov clan and militia governing Chechnya have taken part in Russia’s military operations. The incumbent leader, son of ex-president Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in May 2004, was installed as president by a decree signed by Putin in February 2007. Since then, he has ruled Chechnya with an iron fist, brutally repressing any sign of Islamic extremism, as well as all political or personal opposition to the Russian president.
The Chechen regime is the Kremlin’s preferred model for Syria, by virtue of its military record and services to Moscow.
The Kadyrovs gained their kudos by succeeding – where the Russian army failed – in crushing the guerilla war waged in Chechnya by militias linked to al Qaeda and other Muslim groups, and going on to rebuild the Chechen state and rehabilitate its economy as a Russian federal republic.
Chechen law, furthermore, obligates its young men to serve the Russian army for missions in any of the predominantly Muslim federal autonomous republics of the Northern Caucasian.
Kadyrov also makes his security services and special operations counterterrorism divisions available to the Russian army on demand.
In Damascus, Putin hopes to set up a regime that likewise controls the national armed forces while being subject to the higher authority of the Russian high command in Syria.
While far from certain that the Syrian war can be polished off in three months, the Russian president is pushing forward with his plans for the post-Assad era, setting up new ruling frameworks that will be ready to go when the time comes.
Russian officers are reported by DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources to have begun dividing up the country into separate regions, the better to impose local ceasefires between the Syrian army and rebels.
The Russian military is furthermore engaged in four steps for assuring the Syrian army’s victory and ruthlessly smashing rebel resistance.
1. Russian warplanes are flattening rebel-held towns, strongholds and supply centers, leaving them with two options: Surrender or flee. In the last 10 days, Russian air strikes have pulverized rebel targets in both the northern and southern parts of the country.
2. At the end of each battle, Russian officers step in to re-establish local government under a Syrian general.
3. These Syrian generals are designated for seats on a new national ruling council to be established by Russian officers as a transitional regime.
Under this plan, Bashar Assad will have to transfer his powers to the head of this transitional council. If he refuses, he will be confined to his palace and cut off from connections with government, military and intelligence institutions.
4. The Russians are busy rallying Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities behind their scheme for Syria’s future. One incentive they are offering is professional assistance for them to form their own armed militias.
This week, Russian officers arrived in Jabel Druze in the southeast and went to work on a new local fighting force. In the northeast, they handed Kurdish fighting groups their first batch of advanced weapons systems withheld hitherto by the Americans.
(A separate article in this issue deals with the Kurdish militias)
Moscow is in full thrust for scaling down the fighting, without waiting for the politicians to come to terms on Syria’s fate. The UN-sponsored Syrian peace conference that opened in Geneva this week is therefore a sideshow. In any case, it was adjourned Wednesday, Feb. 3, for three weeks.
As we reported last week, the two big powers are acting to close all the participants’ options, excepting only to the follow the script dictated by the US and Russia.